Saturday, March 19, 2011

Toughest in Texas 2011 results

The results have been posted from last Saturday, and I was pleased to see that I was not last!  I knew a few people had come in behind me, but did not expect to be right in the middle of the pack.  Of 21 50K finishers, I was number 11.  The winner, a guy named Paul Terranova, won in 4:43:35.  Not bad!

My 7:33:11 finish sounds really slow, especially compared to my only other 50K race, El Scorcho in July 2009.  At that race I ran a 5:19:23.  However, I can hardly compare the two, since El Scorcho is run at Trinity Park in Fort Worth, on flat, groomed trails.  At TNT, my Garmin recorded 10,600 feet ascent/descent.  I think I can justify taking a little longer on that course!

Race director Tim Neckar said he got some negative comments from people who got off course.  I thought the course was exceptionally well-marked.  I think they don't recognize that one of the many additional pleasures of trail running is the challenge of staying on course.

I read a report of the A-OK trail run in Oklahoma.  (This is the one put on by Mary Ann Miller, whom I met briefly at Cross Timbers a couple weeks ago.)  One runner, Eunsup Kim, whom I've met at a number of races, walked the first 7 miles, then ran the rest, to win the master's division.  Maybe I need to take a lesson from him.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Toughest in Texas 50K

Last Saturday I returned to Waco, home of my alma mater, Baylor University, to run the Toughest in Texas 50K.  I always loved Cameron Park when I lived there, but it is much nicer than I remember.  The facilities have expanded and improved, and the trails are much better maintained and well-marked.  The physical beauty of the park, especially the great views from the bluffs over the river, is unmatched in the area.

Tim Neckar, a running coach based in Houston, started the Toughest in Texas trail runs about 5 years ago.  Runners can choose the 5, 10, or 20 mile course, or the 50K.  Twenty-five or so of us lined up for the 50K start at 7 a.m.  The course, 3 loops of about 10 1/3 miles, runs through the park, up and down the trails, which get lots of traffic from mountain bikers.  As befits the needs of mountain bikers, the trails feature lots of long climbs and descents.  The names of the trails, marked like ski slopes with green circles, blue squares, or black diamonds to rate difficulty, reveal what runners can expect: "Sidewinder," "Vortex," "Rio Perdido" (that's Dangerous River, in case you don't know Spanish). 

Like many races, the highlight of this race was who I ran with.  For the majority of the race, I ran with Stuart Skeeter and Joe Prusaitis.  Stuart, an experienced trail runner and long-time family friend, has been running ultras for years, and has finished numerous 100 milers, so this little run was nothing.  In e-mail exchanges before the race, he went on about not being in shape for this race.  I don't know if it was humility, or if he just had a good day, but he seemed to be in pretty good shape to me!  If you know trail running at all, then you know Joe, the king of trail running in Texas.  As founder of Tejas Trails, he directs some of Texas's best trail runs.  A veteran trail runner, he has completed an amazing number of ultras, including finishing the Hardrock 100, one of the toughest mountain ultras ever (the course includes a summit of a 14K peak), and less than 2 weeks later completing the Badwater Ultramarathon, the "world's toughest footrace," which starts every summer in Death Valley, where temperatures are easily 120-130 degrees.  When I first started getting into trail running, Stuart told me how lucky we are in Texas to have a large number of races.  It's not luck, though.  It's Joe!
My feet deserve a medal for what I put them through.
So I ran much of the race with these two guys; needless to say, I was out of my league.  We stayed together throughout the first loop.  Actually, Stuart breezes through aid stations, so after I stopped for a drink and snack, I would then have to catch up to Stuart.  Joe lingers a bit more than I do, but he never had a problem catching back up.  We finished the first loop in 1:55.  Not bad, but I wondered if I would be able to keep it up.  Joe and Stuart are both stronger, more experienced runners than I am, so I knew it would take a lot to stick with them.  The second loop was slower, but I still felt pretty strong.  We stuck together through the first aid station, but after the second, Stuart took off, and we never caught him.  Joe and I finished the second loop at about 4:20; I knew it would be slower, but I didn't realize it was 30 minutes longer.

I started the third loop alone, feeling pretty sluggish, but Joe quickly caught up with me and I got to draw some energy from him for a couple more hours.  The first part of the loop is consistently tougher than the latter portion, so we suffered through those miles together.  Then at the aid station we were greeted by my brother, Mark!  That was a treat, to have him pace us for a while.  He's run this race every year it's been run, and runs at Cameron Park for fun, so he knows the trails.  Unfortunatly, I was about at the end of my rope, so he didn't get much of a run in, going as slowly as I was.  The three of us ran together to the next aid station, and after about the mile 7 marker, with a little more than 3 miles left, Joe took off, showing his finishing strength.  I was in my late-race 15-20 min/mile struggling to the finish mode. 

Jacob's ladder.  It's steep.
I finally passed the 10 mile marker, delighted that the end was near.  Shortly after this, the course follows the road for a few hundred yards (the rest of the course is all single-track), until it reaches the cruelest course ending ever.  Just ahead, maybe 200 yards away, I could see the finish.  I'm almost there!  But, no, the course veers to the right, up Jacob's Ladder.  This is a stone staircase, 90 steep steps, not regular staircase steps, but big steps, straight up the side of the hill.  Climbing these is tough.  After 10 miles, tough.  After 20 miles, really tough.  After 30 miles, torturous.  So, up the stairs, around the back of the hill, and finally across the finish line at 7: 35.  Not exactly negative splits.  1:55, 2:25, 3:15.  Ouch.

My beautiful wife and 3 terrific kids at the finish couldn't care less about how slow I was.  They weren't very eager to get hugs from stinky, sweaty me, but they were still happy to see me.  Stuart had finished in about 6:15 (undertrained. Haha!), and had stuck around to see me cross.  Joe had finished about 20 minutes before; I got to introduce him to my family and visit with him a bit more.  A burger and two cans of Dr Pepper made for a perfect finish.

This was a fun race, but the race organization, aid stations, goodie bag (nice gloves and technical shirt), and post-race spread were all overshadowed by the great trails.  Which is as it should be.  I loved Cameron Park when I lived in Waco, and it's even more lovable now.  Anyone who lives in or around Waco and doesn't spend some time here every now and then--whether for a hike, a trail run, a mountain bike challenge, or just to sit on a bluff overlooking the river--is really cheating himself.
This crew was a welcome site at the finish line.  No, Zippy, I don't want to climb Jacob's Ladder again!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ready for a 50K?

Am I ready for a 50K?  We'll see.  I'm going to Waco for the Toughest in Texas Trail Runs in Cameron Park.  I biked there a little when I was in college, and ran there a little when we lived in Waco later on.  But this was before I was really running; at that time, I would run for 30 minutes or so with Princess (how I miss her!) and call it good, thinking I was a real trail running stud.  I figure this race will take me at least 6 hours, if I go really fast, more likely 7 or more. 

This race is only in its fourth year or so, and my brother has run in every other running.  He won't be there this weekend, so I have to run to make sure there's a Mastin represented.  I am looking forward to running with my friend Stuart, a veteran trail runner and a great guy.  I have never run with him before; we'll see if I can keep up!

This race calls itself Toughest in Texas.  Cross Timbers, where I ran the marathon 3 weeks ago, calls itself the Toughest Little Trail in Texas.  I guess I'll let you know in a few days who wins the toughest trail prize!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nice Place to Run: Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

This morning I joined a few other runners for a North Texas Trail Runners club run.  I had never been to Oak Cliff Nature Preserve and thought this would be a great way to meet some other runners and check out some new trails.  From my house in east Fort Worth, it took less than 40 minutes to get there.  (Of course, I wouldn't want to drive that on a weekday morning!)  The entrance, a little bit hidden among some apartments and industrial buildings, certainly doesn't scream "great trail running ahead!"  But I had seen some pictures and read so reports, so I knew to expect some decent trails.

The trails, faithfully maintained by DORBA (Dallas Off-Road Bicycle Association), loop around for about 8 miles total.  The trails themselves are not as challenging as those at Cedar Ridge, but there are plenty of short climbs to keep it interesting, on many of which I thought, "There's no way I could ride my bike on that!"  The trails loop around and intersect; it's not  hard to get turned around.  But DORBA keeps them well-marked, so once you get familiar with the layout, there's no need to send up a flare.  We did see plenty of mountain bikers, but they were considerate and easy to share the trail with.

On any scale, the trails at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve are fun trails to run on.  The fact that they are nestled in this south Dallas neighborhood and so easily accessible make them a great place to run.  Check them out.

I kept up wit both these guys on this day, but I think they'd be too fast for me to keep up with on a longer run.
Kay hosted the club run and kept us fueled up.  She's training for a double ironman triathlon.  That's intense!
These pictures aren't very good.  For more on Oak Cliff Nature Preserve, including better pictures, go here:
or here:

Oh, and here's DORBA's map, showing how they fit all those trails in a not very big piece of land: